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Lovin' lamb


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Many people associate springtime with lamb, and that makes Alameda County sheep rancher Peter Swanson happy. Swanson is one of five lamb producers for Oakland-based Niman Ranch Meats, which supplies sustainably raised lamb, beef, and pork to top restaurants.

Swanson specializes in California spring lamb grazed on lush winter pastures in Livermore, Brentwood, and Pleasanton. He and Niman’s other lamb growers, who are all in Contra Costa, Alameda, and Solano counties, sometimes "finish" their lamb with grain to provide a bit of marbling on the otherwise lean meat. The remarkably tender, aged meat has a succulent—but not gamey—flavor.

Swanson, who has been raising sheep on his Livermore family farm for 32 years, sells his meat through Niman to East Bay hot spots such as Berkeley’s Café Rouge (including its meat market), Dopo in Oakland, and Café Cacao in Berkeley. Swanson also welcomes customers on spring lamb tours: To be placed on Niman’s spring lamb tour list, e-mail info@nimanranch.com.

Grilled Spring Lamb with Salsa Verde

The recipe for the Mediterranean-inspired salsa verde is from the Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld (Simon & Schuster, $40). I find the salsa particularly delicious on grilled or roasted leg of lamb or on chops. The consistency should be loose enough to drizzle the salsa over the meat. Add more olive oil if necessary, and leave a bowl of extra salsa to pass on the table. It’s that addictive! Serves 4.

Ingredients

1-1/2 cups loosely packed Italian parsley

1/2 cup loosely packed mint

1/2 cup loosely packed chives

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

3–4 anchovy fillets

2 tablespoons capers, drained

Zest of half a lemon

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup, plus 1 tablespoon mild extra-virgin olive oil

One rack of lamb (one double-cut chop
or two chops per person)

Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (the anchovies and mustard are high in salt)

Peppercress or other baby greens
for garnish

Preparation

Preheat grill. Combine first 10 ingredients in food processor and blend until smooth. Scrape contents into small bowl and lay plastic wrap directly on top of the salsa’s surface to prevent darkening. When grill is ready, season lamb on both sides with salt and pepper. Grill meat, turning only once, until rare to medium rare, approximately eight to 10 minutes. Remove from grill, place on carving board, cover with foil, and let rest several minutes so juices absorb back into meat.

Carve into double-cut chops or eight separate chops, and on each of four plates, lay the meat on top of the greens, allowing the juices to wilt them slightly. Alternatively, place a small mound of greens tossed with a simple vinaigrette next to the chops. Drizzle two tablespoons of salsa verde atop each chop, and serve immediately.

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